Ever wondered about our early settlement in the Hunter Valley Region

The Hunter Valley
Exploration by Europeans
Europeans first approached the Hunter Region as early as 1796, when some fishermen were driven ashore near Port Stephens. In 1801 Governor King sent an exploring party to the Hunter River, led by Lieutenant Grant and Lieutenant-Colonel Paterson (commandant of the NSW Corps). This expedition was followed in the same year by a second group led by Surveyor-General Charles Grimes and Francis Barrallier to examine the Hunter Valley in more detail. In 1818, John Oxley explored vast regions to the west and north of the Hunter Valley, journeying down the coastline from Port Macquarie to Newcastle and naming the Hastings River.

The interior of the valley was explored by John Howe, Chief Constable of Windsor, in 1819. Howe’s party included George Loder Jnr and John Milward, three convicts and an Aboriginal man named Myles whose home country is likely to have been around Windsor. This exploration party reached the Patrick’s Plains (originally known by the Aboriginal name Coomery Roy). Howe’s expedition predates the surveys of Cunningham (1822-23), Dangar (1824), and Mitchell (1831) and highlights the role Aboriginal people played in this initial phase of European history in the Hunter Valley that can be exemplified by the way Myles is recorded to have navigated and negotiated his way through country that was not his through birth, marriage, or any known kinship association with the people whose land the exploration party travelled through.

The next phase of exploration of the Hunter Region did not begin until 1822-23 when Surveyor Henry Dangar was instructed to survey the Hunter River and Allan Cunningham, botanist and explorer, approached the Goulburn River and Pages River, starting from Bathurst. Again, historical records show Aboriginal people subsequently influenced the land selection processes that led to the occupation of a number of the project homesteads that were created by 1820s survey and land releases. These include direct historical references to Bolwarra, Dunmore, Glendon, and Camyr Allyn estates, and a similar Aboriginal role can be inferred to have occurred at a number of others.

Although described with a particular agenda in mind (being the settlement of appropriate land), these early explorers and surveyors provide some indication of the land and its people at the time of European settlement. These records also describe elevated hinterland hills, wetlands and islands that initially lay outside of the first European agricultural lands. Aboriginal people are likely to have used these landscapes during the earliest periods of European settlement where they represented ‘gaps’ in the grid of settler landholding they could have moved through with the least European surveillance and interference.

The Hunter Valley also has a unique position in the history of political ideas in Australia. It was the earliest site of the phenomenon which Don Aitkin has called “country-mindedness” and which John Hirst makes a component of the “pioneer legend”. Broadly, this is the view that rural pursuits are ennobling and fundamental to existence, while city life is sordid and parasitical, and (the pioneer legend) civilisation in Australia has depended on those who established properties in the bush. This understanding emerged in the Hunter Valley in the 1830s. It led directly to the ideology which in the twentieth century shaped the Country and National parties.

A Comparative Heritage Study of
pre 1850s Homestead Complexes
in the Hunter Region

Posted in

David Carter Property and Livestock

Leave a Comment